18+ Ways to Make LGBT Members Feel Welcome in Your Congregation



June is here, and in honor of LGBT Pride Month, we’re sharing suggestions for welcoming LGBTQ members into your congregation and community. Do you have ideas to add to this list? Leave them in the comments below!

  1. Celebrate Gay Pride Month (June) with a special Shabbat service. Invite LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer) members to participate and include readings that speak to the experience of being both Jewish and LGBTQ. Consider having a guest speaker deliver a sermon or have a panel of congregants at the oneg to discuss how LGBTQ issues affect their congregational and personal lives.
  1. Phrase your congregational publicity in a way that is inviting to all people. In your congregational advertising, make sure that the LGBTQ population is specifically welcomed at all congregational events.
  1. Review your temple website to make sure that it is welcoming to LGBTQ Jews. Rather than using terms such as “alternative lifestyles” or “non-traditional families,” use language such as, “We proudly welcome members of the LGBTQ community,” or “We welcome LGBTQ Jews and their families.”

  1. Advertise your congregation’s services and events in local LGBTQ publications. Print-ready ads are available for you to order through the URJ. To view the ads and ordering instructions, please visit the Avodah website on The Tent, and look for the “URJads_LGBT” file under the Articles and Publications folder.
  1. When planning singles’ activities, recognize that not all single congregants are looking for a partner of the opposite gender. Appreciate that one who appears “single” may have a partner or spouse of the same gender.
  1. Design your membership and school forms to be welcoming to a spouse/partner of either gender. Two men or two women living together may represent an established home or family. Make sure all of your forms, such as new member applications, school registration forms and committee applications, are welcoming to and inclusive of LGBTQ members. Many forms use the terms Husband and Wife, or Father and Mother. Instead, use, “Adult 1” and “Adult 2” or “Member 1” and “Member 2.” Many LGBTQ couples have children. On school forms use “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.” In addition to “single” or “married,” offer “committed relationship” or “partnered” as a membership category.
  1. Be open in your community to sharing in the joy of same-gender commitment and wedding ceremonies by encouraging couples to host an oneg Shabbat in their honor and include a mazel tov in your temple bulletin.
  1. Publicize and celebrate the anniversaries of all committed couples. When LGBTQ families observe life cycle events in the congregation, make sure to consult with them about who should be included.
  1. Hold a training program for your religious school staff that includes creating safe and welcoming classrooms, creating inclusive lesson plans, and handling student’s comments in appropriate ways.
  1. Launch an anti-bullying and “safe space” campaign for your religious school and youth group. Visit the websites of Keshet (“working for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews in Jewish life”) and GLSEN, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.
  1. Honors belong to the entire congregational membership. Make sure that LGBTQ members are honored at services (i.e., opening the ark, reading a prayer or other passage, or lighting the Shabbat candles).
  1. Acknowledge homosexual victims of the Holocaust at Yom Hashoah services.
  1. Include LGBTQ concerns in the congregation’s social action agenda, including those related to employment rights and benefits, marriage equality, adoption, military service, health issues, etc.
  1. Make sure your temple’s employment policies include a statement of non-discrimination based on gender, sexuality or gender identification.
  1. Make sure LGBTQ members are represented on committees and are encouraged to participate fully in congregational leadership.
  1. Offer a program for the parents and families of LGBTQ members to draw them closer to your community. Consider hosting a chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)
  1. Include specific LGBTQ content in your social, cultural, and educational programs, i.e., screen and discuss a film such as Yossi and Jagger in your congregation’s Jewish film festival.
  1. Comfort those who have lost a partner, child, parent or friend to AIDS. Encourage and support them as they mourn communally.
  1. Create a list of community resources serving your local LGBTQ community.

Try these other suggested resources:

Want to print out this post in brochure form to make available to your congregational leaders? You can find it in in The Tent, the URJ’s online communication and collaboration forum.

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2 Responses to “18+ Ways to Make LGBT Members Feel Welcome in Your Congregation”

  1. avatar

    * Hang or stand a rainbow flag outside or inside during Pride month. (Or all year) Put it next to your other flags.
    * Host a Torah discussion during Pride month from a queer perspective. For example, discuss the parsha from a queer perspective. Any parsha. Not Lev. 18:22, but pretty much anything else. Torah Queeries might be helpful.
    * Have the librarian/library committee include an article in the bulletin highlighting some of the most awesome books in the library that take on some queer issue or have a queer character – Balancing on the Mechitza or Torah Queeries for example. (Order more books that are both Jewish and Queer for the library and publicize that you have.)
    * Near the end of the school year, knowing Pride Month is coming, have the student create rainbow Judaica and talk about how that rainbow flag you just put up somewhere means everyone is created B’tzelem Elohim and everyone is welcome here in ways that are age appropriate. The younger kids will always like the rainbows, the older kids will get that it’s connected to Pride. Rainbows are covenantal – we could probably do something with that. Make sure the kids all know that we always welcome everyone, and especially during Pride month we are loud and proud about everyone being welcome and celebrated in our community.
    * Sex ed. For different ages. There is never a bad time for that. Why not Pride month? Our Whole Lives has an awesome, comprehensive curriculum and supplementing it with Jewish material is great.
    * HIV education. Also never a bad time for that.
    * Advocacy to get the federal restrictions on blood donation lifted so men who have sex with men can donate blood – pekuach nefesh and all. Once that happens, men who have sex with men will also be able to be on the Bone Marrow Donor Registry. Bonus.
    * A sign outside the synagogue for the month that says Chag Pride! Or something.
    * Organize a Shabbat morning community service at or very near Pride so people who want to can go.
    * Make a Chag Pride! video with your clergy wishing everyone a Happy Pride and post it on your website for the month.
    * At oneg during Pride have various rainbow treats even if nothing else about the service had anything to do with Pride other than an announcement that it’s that weekend. M&M cookies, cupcakes with rainbows on them, red punch. Or if you have paper plates – rainbow plates. I’m sure Pinterest is full of rainbow food ideas.
    * Make sure your gift shop sells rainbow kippot. Advertise them in the bulletin during Pride month.
    * Find a sponsor for rainbow kippot and have them available for everyone during Pride Shabbat or in general during Pride month. Encourage people to wear them to Pride. Or provide them for everyone in the parade.
    * Order a couple copies of the CBST siddur and borrow a few of the awesome prayers and readings from there for services throughout Pride month. (It’s awesome.)
    * Find out if your health insurance plan includes all necessary medical care for someone transitioning. (all surgeries, all meds) If it doesn’t, change it. Put the information in an employee handbook and/or let your congregation know you took that step.
    * We are big on words, we Jews. Find a forum for a conversation about language. Pronouns. Letters – LGBTQ (The Q matters), QUILTBAG, FABGLITTER . . . all of the letters. Understand what trans* is, and intersex, and queer, and bi. Talk about gender fluidity, and gender queer. Talk about the gender binary.
    * Take a look at the images outside your bathrooms. Are they the right ones? If you have a single bathroom, is any signage necessary?
    * Make sure, really sure, your pride is visible to your community – especially to your youth community. They aren’t reading the bulletin. They may not friend the synagogue on Facebook. Find a way to reach them. This is also pekuach nefesh. Our kids and our teens need to know they aren’t just tolerated, they aren’t even just accepted. They are celebrated. They are celebrated for who they are in ALL that they are. They need to hear it. We older people (I’m 40) need to hear it, too.

    Thank you for posting this. It would be a good start. Pride is a thing. Pride month is a thing. Many congregations probably missed the boat this year. The good news is, Pride will also be a thing in 2016. Plenty of time to plan.

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